Compared to the house and room, John Fleming was small and relatively unimpressive. He turned from the window behind the desk and strode forward to greet us. As I watched him walk toward us, the fear and anxiety I’d felt for the last hour, the worry over Doc, and the apprehension about approaching this rich, powerful man shifted and coalesced into a large lump of ice, sitting right below my heart. I had promised myself that I could be reasonable and handle this situation rationally, in the name of getting the information I needed. I had told myself that I’d be confident and persuasive, eloquent even, in explaining to him why I needed answers to my questions. By the time John Fleming had crossed the carpet to stand in front of me, I wasn’t sure I could do any of that. I was coldly angry.
“Jason, it’s nice to see you again. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting your friends,” he said, his eyes hooded.
I almost laughed. This wasn’t the same friendly, doddering old man I’d met the other night. This man was suspicious of us. And he was lying. A small part of my fear fell away at his words, and I shook my head.
“Mr. Fleming, this is my friend Paul Merrell. I believe you already know Reis Slayton. He is, after all, your employee,” I answered softly.
Paul squirmed and coughed at my unpleasant reply, and Reis grunted in agreement. John Fleming’s expression didn’t change, though I could see his eyes narrow in displeasure.
“Please have a seat,” he answered quietly. He motioned to a large leather sofa, and sat opposite the sofa in a plush leather chair. Once he was comfortably situated, he turned a false smile on me again.
“What can I help you with, son?”
I pulled air in through my teeth and gathered myself. I needed this to go quickly, and as smoothly as possible, so I started with the polite version. “Mr. Fleming, my grandfather is missing. I know that you know where he is, and how I can get to him. I came here to get answers. And I don’t have a lot of time.” I glanced at my watch meaningfully.
Fleming sat back in his seat but said nothing, so I charged on.
“I know about the stones, sir. I know that Doc’s used them to go to Medieval England. What I don’t know is why. That’s what I’m here to find out.”
That got Fleming’s attention, and I sat back myself, satisfied. His expression of serene condescension turned to shock, then to crafty denial.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, son,” he replied quietly.
I paused. I’d expected denial, but I hadn’t exactly come up with a plan to deal with it. My confidence waivered, and the silence drew out.
“Oh come on!” Paul muttered, surprising everyone in the room. He glanced at me, raised his eyebrows, and nodded toward Fleming. “Tell him, Jay,” he murmured. “We don’t have time, right?”
I nodded, speaking quickly at Paul’s goading. “Paul’s right. I’ve only got a few hours to figure out what’s going on, and that’s it. I need to know what I’m looking at. Specifically.”
Fleming held his hands up. “Boys, perhaps you’d better –”
Paul cut in before he could finish. “Listen, buddy, perhaps you’d better,” he snapped. “My friend here heard the conversation between you and Doc the other night. He heard everything! We know about the stone, and we know what it does. We know about your nut job son, and his war with Doc.” He paused and glanced at me, questioning. I shrugged back, willing to let him do the dirty work, and he continued. “I think you believe in your son more than you believe in Doc, and that it’s put him in terrible danger. You may not care about saving him, but we do. We need to know what you know. Now.”
Fleming shook his head and looked angrily from Paul to me. “I’m afraid you misunderstood our conversation, son.” His voice shook with emotion, and his cheeks turned a bright red. This man didn’t like being questioned, and he was losing his temper.
Paul laughed. “Misunderstood? Really? Is that why armed men just happened to run us down and blow up Reis’ car and half of Jason’s driveway? Or why they broke into their house last week? Why exactly did you hire Reis Slayton to protect Jason, Mr. Fleming? Afraid he was getting bullied in school? Come on! What’s going on here?”
Instead of answering, Fleming turned to gaze at me for a moment, then moved his eyes to Reis. Reis took a deep breath, nodded, and spoke.
“The boy’s right. I don’t like being screwed around with, Mr. Fleming, no matter how much I’m making. You obviously know a lot more than you’re letting on. I suggest you tell us what we’re dealing with.”
Fleming shook his head and stood abruptly. “Boys, Mr. Slayton, I’m afraid I have other business to attend to this morning. This conversation is over. I assume you can show yourselves out?”
Suddenly a soft, husky voice joined the conversation from the other side of the room. “If you don’t tell them, John, I will. They certainly have a right to know.”